The statistics around heart disease are heart-stopping, and there’s little doubt that the care community would like to do more to help manage it. Often, however, it can be difficult to help patients manage heart disease appropriately, as much of the treatment and necessary lifestyle changes happens outside of the hospital walls.
Moreover, when an emergency does arise, there’s always the question of getting a patient to a care facility in time.
But telemedicine technologies have been shown to improve treatment for people suffering from chronic diseases, including those who have heart disease. Telemedicine can help patients better monitor their vital signs and activity remotely on a daily basis, enabling them to better work with providers to manage conditions and, hopefully, improve care.
At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Magee-Women’s Hospital, for example, providers have deployed a remote patient monitoring program targeted at, among other things, helping women with pregnancy-associated hypertension prevent heart-related issues in the future.
“Women who develop [pregnancy-associated hypertension] are more likely later in life to develop either hypertension or other cardiovascular issues,” UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard H. Beigi tells HealthTech. The hospital equips the women with blood pressure cuffs and asks them to enter their readings into an app. The readings are then remotely checked and recorded by a qualified medical professional, who can alert them if follow-up care is necessary.
But telehealth tech is useful for more than prevention; it can also help to cut readmission rates for patients with heart conditions that require continuous monitoring.
Frederick Memorial Hospital Taps Telemedicine for Chronic Care
Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland is one such success story.
As part of their Chronic Care Management Program pilot launched in October 2016, the hospital has provided chronic care patients, including those with chronic heart failure and cardiovascular disease, with 4G tablets. Patients are also equipped with Bluetooth biometric devices, including blood pressure monitors, a pulse oximeter and scales that allow patients to monitor their own vitals, such as blood pressure, weight, oxygen levels and temperature, The Frederick News-Post reports.
The tablets send the vital-sign information to care professionals at the hospital, who remotely monitor the patient, texting, calling and videoconferencing with the patient and family members as necessary, including times when the patient is at risk for readmission.
The results have been astounding: Since the start of the trial, hospital readmissions have fallen by 89 percent over a 30-day period. Moreover, because chronic care patients have a direct line to nurses who can understand their vital signs, emergency department visits for these patients have dropped by 49 percent, according to a press release.
"Much of CCMP's success is due to the personal relationships we build with our patients as well as the great technology with the telemonitors," Lisa Hogan, chronic care management team leader, says in the press release. "We call each patient at least weekly and involve them in setting goals for themselves. It is wonderful to see the growth and independence develop as we come alongside them."
Telemedicine Improves Care for Heart Surgery Patients
Telemedicine and remote monitoring can also prove useful for patients recovering from heart surgery, especially those who live far from care facilities. This is according to research from the West Virginia University School of Medicine, which studied satisfaction levels for rural patients after cardiovascular surgery.
As it normally takes patients in the Appalachian region hours to travel to and from care facilities, the study sought to equip post-operative patients with the tools necessary to monitor their own vital signs and reach out to medical professionals.
While the number of readmissions from those with telemedicine tools didn’t budge significantly, “patients in the telemedicine group scored better on measures of their physical function, mental health and role limitations due to physical health problems” after 30 days of monitoring their health with telemedicine tools, according to WVU.
"Telemedicine would save a lot of headache in Appalachia — in areas where people don't even have the money to get in the car to get to the hospital," said Albeir Mousa, who led the study and teaches surgery at the WVU Health Sciences Charleston Campus. "You're getting the same service but with a very minor hassle for the patient and the physician."